Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Staging the Seasons

Are you familiar with the concept of "staging?"  You know...it's setting things up very carefully to make it look as though it happened naturally.  We stage all the time, often without realizing how deliberately we're trying to be nonchalant!  We do it for pictures, in our homes, and in fashion (think about how long it takes to get your hair to have that casual-curl "tousled" look!).

But the strangest staging to me is the staging of the seasons.  It fascinates me to think of how we drag pumpkins, stalks of corn, bales of hay, sheaves of wheat and colorful leaves onto our porches or into our kitchens for an autumnal atmosphere.  We make apple pie, butternut squash soup, roasted root veggies and mulled cider.  Then we light apple-cinnamon candles, sip pumpkin spice lattes, and go to the pumpkin patch wearing our plaid flannel shirts, infinity scarves and skinny jeans tucked into our boots!

And it's not just fall we've fallen for!  At Christmas, we're decking the halls with holly and evergreen, baking Christmas cookies, lighting fir-scented candles, sipping peppermint mochas, and wearing red mittens, jackets with fur-trimmed hoods, and infinity scarves and skinny jeans tucked into our boots!  And we even go the extra mile to add music to that season!

In the spring and summer, we stop lighting candles because we can bring fragrant flowers right inside.  We gorge ourselves like bears out of hibernation on all the fresh berries that ripen in glorious waves of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blueberry, blackberry and peach.  We ice our lattes, and we finally toss the boots into the closet and wear strappy sandals with our skinny jeans, and our infinity scarves lose a lot of weight as we switch out the knits for airy cotton!

This staging of the seasons is nothing more than replicating a by-gone era.  We reproduce something we've never known and make it our own.  Think back 100 years ago...

A century ago in autumn, the fields were ripe for harvest.  The wheat was golden, the corn stalks towered in height, the hay baled and ready for winter feeding, and pumpkins gathered to be roasted and canned, not carved.  The apples and root veggies were gathered in baskets, wooden crates and tin pails not because they were vintage, retro or charming but because industrial-strength plastic crates and clam-shell packaging hadn't been invented yet.  Then those fruits and veggies were stored in cold cellars so there would be produce to eat during the long winter months when nothing grew and no one could run to the store for grapes from Chili, mangoes from Mexico and hydroponic tomatoes from a greenhouse.  Ladies bought canning jars for (gasp) canning, not for flower vases, drinking glasses, or smoothie shakers.  Kitchens were filled with the fragrance of good food because the harvest must be preserved...a huge, messy job that was necessary for survival, not a couple batches of pretty peaches or jelly in jars displayed on a shelf, but the true process of "putting up" produce...beans, tomatoes, corn, peaches, pears, pickles, beets, squash, plums...everything that could be canned would be canned!  They ate butternut squash soup and applesauce and kale because that's what was in season and available, not because it was cozy "fall food."  And if there were colorful leaves all over the yard it was because they didn't have a leaf-blower to remove them in 10 minutes and they were too busy in the fields and kitchen to bother raking them until later in the season when they were dry, brown and broken down.  All those pumpkins sitting in a happy heap in a wagon?  Well, they were simply loaded up like that so they could be hauled to market to sell to townfolk.  And the bales of hay were stacked up not to look like a pretty decoration, but to fill a barn with insulating warmth for the animals, bedding for their stalls, and food for the winter months of no grass to graze.  Plaid flannel shirts were great for working...warm enough to keep away the chilly autumn air but light enough to buck those bales of hay, pick the apples, and dig potatoes.  Boots were necessary for working in mud.  And pumpkin spice lattes and eternity scarves didn't even exist.

I've thought about this "season staging" over the last few years, but it was just this weekend that I had the epiphany that inspired me enough to actually name the phenomenon (by the way, that is my original phrase!).  On Saturday I went to the pumpkin patch for the sole purpose of buying donuts.  There is a local farm that makes homemade pumpkin spice and apple cider donuts and serves them fresh and hot in a paper bag.  They are really the only donut I like and I buy them every year.  I took my daughter and her friend along for the ride on that gorgeous morning---a truly quintessential autumn day at the peak of the season.  The leaves were bursting with color and still mostly on the trees but with enough fallen to the ground to produce the perfect "crunch factor."  The fields were golden, the sky was blue, the barn was red, and the pumpkins were plump and jumbled together in a kaleidoscope of orange, yellow, pink and white.  Because it was Saturday, the place was packed with people.  We parked and walked towards the sounds of laughter and humming motors and came upon a huge inflatable "barn" for the kids to jump in.  How fun!  Then the pony rides were right beside that...patient little ponies tethered to a ring, walking in circles with both crying and laughing kids on their backs.  On the other side of the ponies was the pumpkin patch.  Yeah, right.  It was just a gigantic pile of already-picked pumpkins scattered on the ground so all you had to do was pick up your favorite and take it home.  Beyond that was a hay maze, a haunted barn, a giant slide into a pile of hay, a little "cow" choo-choo train and a wagon full of hay pulled by a tractor for rides, a guy strumming a guitar and singing country songs, a petting zoo, a big barn gift shop selling pies, candles, apples, cider and whimsical fall décor, a booth that popped fresh kettle corn, a concession stand for hot dogs, and....DONUTS!  We skipped all of the above and headed straight for the donuts.  Then we took our greasy paper bags and walked away from the madding crowd of noisy kids and excited parents (I'm obviously very much in between having little kids and grandkids...when you have neither you really don't enjoy being around those who do!).  There was a little path that curved down around a hill towards tall trees, in which nestled a real barn with real horses and an irrigation pond beside it.  From there you could see the real fields where the pumpkins actually grew and the brittle stubble of a harvested hay field.  We found some clean hay on the ground to sit on, and we made ourselves comfortable.  There, in the quiet countryside, we enjoyed our treats---salted caramel lattes we had grabbed to-go on our way to the farm, cinnamon-sugary donuts, and a healthy organic apple to counter the carb deficit of the donut.  As I took the first bite of my donut I suddenly looked at myself...pumpkin spice donut in one hand, latte in the other and my apple balanced on my knee, sitting in the hay wearing skinny jeans and boots and an infinity scarf.  Yep, I really was.  I thought I was avoiding the hype of the pumpkin patch but had actually plopped myself down right in the middle of it!  I said to Kate, "Take my picture."  I knew right then I was going to blog this "ah-ha" moment!

So, here I am contemplating the silliness of staging and the satisfaction of it.  Why do I go to such effort to both avoid it and embrace it?  I long for the natural, genuine beauty of fall, but I enjoy just as much bringing that beauty into my home (and my tummy!).  So I sit here and blog about it, listening to the leaf-blower outside my window, swishing away the lovely leaves I just crunched my way through on my morning run, while I sip my latte and enjoy the fragrance of my "Fall Leaves" candle that I can light now that my allergic husband has left for work.  I've decided it's too difficult and no fun to separate the two but to enjoy each just the way it is.  This is our culture and our day.  We don't live 100 years ago when harvest was harvest and fall was just one of the four seasons.  We can be thankful for the harvest, eat of the harvest, and even bring the harvest right inside our homes.  We can go to the pumpkin patch and the apple festival and absorb the whole 21st century "farm" experience.  We can light spicy-sweet scented candles in our kitchens and bake an apple pie.  We can drink hot spiced cider and pumpkin spice lattes to our hearts' content.  And we can walk in the solitude of a wooded path where the leaves fall and no one blows them away.  Fall is both staged and unrehearsed.  So put on your infinity scarf and get out there and enjoy it!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

She's Making Herstory

Is it still your blog if you tell another person's story?

My daughter Anna is on an adventure in India.  She is teaching English for 6 months at a Bible college and an English Medium School, preaching at youth meetings, working with orphans, and doing whatever else she is asked to do.  She is eating rice three times a day, wearing covering clothing on hot, humid days, dealing with almost daily power outages, unreliable internet connections, crazy traffic, and cyclones.  She is a celebrity...the very, very white girl with the very, very blue eyes.  Everywhere she goes people stare and the brave ones ask to have their picture taken with her.  Her students loves to pinch her skin, fascinated with how that white flesh turns red.  They are concerned about her losing weight from eating rice three times a day: "Ma'am, you are losing all your nice fat," they say worriedly.  The littlest orphans cuddle up against her, tucking their small bodies underneath her arms to feel the security and nurture they miss from their mothers.  She takes care of sick people and kills snakes.  She washes her own laundry and hangs it out to dry.  She prays every day, sometimes three times a day, and gets up early to do it.  She cooks regularly.  She is the first white teacher in the whole state of Andhra Pradesh.  She is a history maker!

Anna isn't a writer like Kate and I.  But she is pretty good at text messages like this: 

They call my braid an "elephant's tail."
The warden's wife thinks my zits are mosquito bites.
Jaya thinks the reason my hair sheds is because it's straight.
The girls are fascinated with my chubby cheeks. 

What Anna does best is talk...when we Skype, we talk a loooonnnnggg time!  She tells great stories and makes me laugh.  She sees humor where others would see poverty or dirt or communication barriers or culture clashes.  She sees the beauty and fun in a place of brokenness and hardship.  Not only does she make me laugh, she makes the kids laugh.  Her pictures are full of laughing children...they look like the most joyful, fun-loving group of children anywhere.  Why?  Because when they are cutting the grass by hand with bladed curved sticks, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like they are playing golf.  When they are scrubbing their clothes with a bar of soap on a concrete floor, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like the most fun job ever.  When they are standing in line for their plate of rice at lunchtime, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like they are at a hipster community lunch place in Portland.  When they are studying in their dorm rooms, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like a slumber party.

But in her heart, she is moved.  She bought a set of clothes for one little guy whose pants were tied up with string and shirt was reduced to two buttons.  She hid her camera when visiting the mud-and-thatch hut of one of her students to spare him the shame of making his home a Facebook spectacle.  She praises the orphans who say, "Ma'am, watch me!" when they do a trick or stunt for her.  They have no mothers sitting on a park bench smiling encouragingly at their children as they climb to the top of the slide or jump from a platform or hang from the monkey bars.  They have no one to say, "Mom, look at this!" to, as they color a beautiful picture.  There is no one to listen when they read a full paragraph aloud from their favorite book  So Anna is the "Watch me!" "Listen to me!" surrogate mother.  They love to perform, and she loves to praise.  She allows their little hands to explore her face, hair and white skin as they poke and pinch her in curiosity.  The littlest ones are simply content to hold her hand, soaking up the physical contact and warmth of an affectionate mother figure.  It's already breaking her heart to think of how she will have to say goodbye.

Who is most blessed?  The kids...because they are not only learning English---the ticket out of poverty in India---but they are learning it from a native-born English speaker.  They are in a godly atmosphere, learning that they have a destiny, purpose and call in a place of hopelessness and despair.  They are fed, clothed and sheltered.  And they are loved and touched affectionately.

But maybe it's Anna who is most blessed...because she is seeing a world so different from her own, where the simplest things have the greatest value.  She will learn to give sacrificially and work while everyone else on the other side of the world plays.  She will do things she was never trained to do, and do them well.  She will grow up.  She will be more compassionate, and more passionate.

But then again, maybe it's the rest of us who will be blessed...because our eyes are opened our hearts are touched by the stories and pictures someone else shares of a people we didn't even know existed.  And we, with our vast resources of time and money, can invest in those little lives across the globe.  We can share in their destiny on earth and their eternity in heaven.  We can affect millions because of one who affected a few.

Anna has only been in India for a little over a month.  She has five months before her.  What else will she see and do?  What else will she share with us?  I'm excited for her on this amazing adventure.  But I'm excited for all the people who will suddenly be awakened to the potential of redeemed lives in other nations.  Because of Anna, perhaps someone else will help people in Niger, Tibet, Dubai, the Amazon, Nunavut, an unnamed island, a remote mountain village, a slum in a city of millions.  I've already done some world travel, and yet she inspires me to do more.

Be inspired...be motivated...be used!

From youngest to oldest, beautiful girls in vibrant colors!

Anna's boys on wash day


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Saddest Scene in Oregon

For those of you who know me, you'll know this:  I love Oregon.  I was born here, right in the beautiful city of Portland and spent my teen and young adult years in the quaint town of Newberg.  I am both a city girl and a country girl (hence, the title of my blog!), and I love the aspects and nuances of both lives.  Sometimes I even have daydreams that would border on being a tree-hugger---living in the forest, foraging for berries and wildflowers, letting my hair go curly and wild, skipping the make-up, and cozying up in my cabin to write books.  Then once a month I'd get all dressed up with high heels and pretty hair and spend a weekend in the city shopping and eating at great restaurants, soaking up culture and drinking coffee!  Ahhh, wouldn't that be the life!

But anyway, here I am in my small-town subdivision caught somewhere in the middle of those two lives.  This week, my husband and I are in the city to attend a conference, so I am getting my Portland coffee fix and eating yummy food every day.  One afternoon when we had some free time between sessions, we decided to go on an adventure.

Jeff had read a few years ago that there were some large waterfalls just off the I-205 freeway that we often travel.  They are the second widest falls in the U.S. next to Niagara Falls and the 17th widest falls in the world.  So why hadn't I ever been there, he wondered.

I didn't have an answer.  Yes, I'd heard about them, but only vaguely.  I, who have hiked too many falls to count and even got engaged beside one of them, had never seen these grand Willamette Falls that Jeff was so curious about.  Well, that made him even more curious.  Why hadn't I ever seen them?  Why did I know nothing about them?  He decided he wanted to see them, so one day when we were driving down the freeway, we pulled over at the view point and peered through thick foliage to catch a glimpse of nothing but mist down below.  Well, that was disappointing!  Now we were both curious about the hidden falls and why they were so unknown and unaccessible.  We decided that one day when we had some free time we would search out a way to see the falls.  That free time came this week.

We first drove into the town of Oregon City for lunch and coffee.  I had read about a little café that was supposed to have good food.  After an incredible amount of rain this past week, the sun was finally starting to break through the heavy clouds and the rain actually stopped for a couple hours just for us!  The café was cute and cozy, and we enjoyed paninis and lattes and the art gallery before our adventure.  Jeff asked the girl beside us if she knew of a way to get to the falls.  She apologized and said no.  Jeff asked the girl taking our order, and she also didn't know.  We drove away on our own, following what I had learned online:  There are four viewpoints, one from the bridge, one from the bluffs, one from the highway and one from the freeway.  We headed down the hill toward the river and parked alongside the edge of the river walkway high above the water below.

We looked over the rusty rail separating the walkway from a steep river bank that dropped straight down to swirling brown water that carried foam on its surface, picked up from the polluted liquid that pumped out of the many pipes feeding directly into the river.  We could finally see the falls in the distance, but they were obscured with mist and hidden by the many mills lining the banks.  We walked along the sidewalk towards the falls, noting how decrepit the railing and the promenade were.  We got to the "view point," and realized we were still nowhere near the falls.  We could see them now, but they were too far away to appreciate their beauty or power.  So we got back into the car and took the highway up to the bluffs above us.

Here was the best viewpoint so far...an eyeful of ugly, dirty industrial buildings in a terrible state of disrepair, sucking the beauty and the life out of the churning falls.  A few other people were also "admiring" the view.  I remarked out loud how sad a scene this was.  A woman next to me overheard me and said, "Why?" in a puzzled tone.  "Well," I explained, stating what I thought was pretty obvious, "The falls are ruined.  This could be a beautiful spot."  She shrugged nonchalantly and walked back to her car with her daughter, who had been reading aloud the history of the industrialization of the falls from a memorial plaque.  I walked a little further down to try to get closer so I could take some pictures.  When I returned, Jeff was talking to a big man in a dirty mechanic's jacket with unkempt hair and scruffy beard.  He was reciting the history of the mills very matter-of-factly and, like the woman, didn't seem bothered at all by the desecration of the falls.

The mills were some of the creepiest buildings I had ever seen.  They were built in the late 1800s and were still standing...and still used...today, 150 years later.  The metal siding was rusted right through in places, the windows were shattered, the iron railings and staircases were rusted, the roofs were thick with moss, and the black smoke stacks continually spewed gray clouds while the river thrashed wildly over the rocks and locks.  I found a metal staircase and climbed to the top to get a better view.  There were no great views...these falls were purposely ignored by the public  The forgotten falls were life to this small town, providing jobs for a majority of the workforce.  They were also the source of power---and therefore life---to the big city of Portland.  Suddenly it all made sense.  The silence of all the activists, native Indians, nature-preservists, outdoorsmen, earthies, and hippie tree-huggers was due to the fact that without those powerful, awesome falls there would be no powerful, awesome Portland.  And for the little city that once bore the name of the falls, all those power plants and mills provided employment for many of the residents.  No one wanted to see the mills close down or the source of power eliminated, but no one wanted to see the rape of the falls and the ravishing of their beauty either, so they were tucked away out of sight and not spoken of.

So now we knew the story.  We walked away without much to say.  All my "for shame!" ideologies were quieted by the knowledge that the most populated area of my beloved state drew its very life from these falls.  The scenery was sacrificed for the city and its citizens.  When we got back to our hotel room, I went online one more time and clicked on the link for the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.  This is what I read:

Willamette Falls Legacy Project
For the first time in 150 years, Oregonians have the opportunity to rediscover a cultural and scenic treasure: Willamette Falls. A public vision and master plan are taking shape, with the goal of transforming a 23-acre industrial site nestled along the Falls in historic Oregon City. This former paper mill could someday serve as an economic engine, a waterfront destination, a unique habitat, a window into Oregon’s past – and a bold step into our future.  Whatever develops on the landscape will be shaped by Willamette Falls, roaring in the Willamette River below. The largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest, it was long an important cultural and gathering place for Native American tribes. The Oregon Trail ended here. And throughout the 1800s, the Falls made history by generating energy for Oregon’s early industries and cities and fueling the nation’s first long-distance electrical power transmission.

So I am encouraged!  There is hope that one day the beauty of the falls and power of the falls can both be appreciated.  Maybe I should join the committee!!

Here are some fascinating pictures...I wish I had more than my slowly dying, ancient iPhone to capture the scene.

Far down the river, the foam floats by

Could be a beautiful view, but the brown water looks dark and dirty

Nothing is cared for here, not even the promenade beside the river

The first real view

I climbed these stairs for a better view of the buildings

I lined everything up so that only green trees
and water was visible.  You'd never guess
this was the same place!